James Dayton, Creative Producer at Jamestown Films
The October SLC | SEM event kicked off with James Dayton, from Jamestown Films. Jamestown Films is a film production crew that’s been behind some recent marketing videos that have gone viral. The focus of their work is the content they produce for their clients, and they seek to elevate the brand of anyone who requests their services.
James began by explaining that his niece—as part of a college assignment—asked him a battery of questions about advertising and marketing. Of those questions, he remembers only one: “How important is networking in business?”
James’ response was atypical. He told her “Create killer content, and it will do the networking for you.”
This maxim has guided the vision and direction of Jamestown Films, and it’s helped them achieve the success they’ve seen in their endeavors. It was this wisdom that he shared with us, along with steps to follow to make sure your content is top notch.
1- Be Original
James encouraged those who produce content to seek to create something original. As positive examples, he he held up the movies Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool—both movies that did something unique and outstanding in the genre. The problem, he noted, is that Hollywood will likely see the success of these movies and, rather than mimic the originality that made them great, will try to extract some formula they can utilize to reproduce the success.
As a negative example, James highlighted used car commercials. There’s very little in those promotions that engage the audience as the salesmen hawk their wares. They all follow a predictable format: “We have cars, so come and buy them.” There’s nothing to differentiate one dealer from another.
That’s not to say that those who create content don’t reuse material or retread ground. You just have to make it your own. Give a unique perspective on the mundane, otherwise all you’re offering is the mundane. When pursuing a bold idea, James urged specifically “Dare not to wuss out.”
2 - Love It On Paper
There’s a popular theater and film adage that goes, “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.” Performers recognize that a quality production begins in the planning phases, when the the script is written, the idea is put together, and the vision takes shape. Problems at this stage will only cascade downstream. In other words, if you are not that impressed by your original plan, the execution won’t make it better.
3 - Worship Not The Tool
It’s a common complaint of amateur artists that they “lack the tools for success.” They think to themselves, “If I only had the right camera, or Adobe Creative Suite, or the right paints, I could create a masterpiece.” What we need to realize is that the pen doesn’t write the novel, the author does. And should the only tool available be a purple crayon, in the right hands a masterpiece will still be the result.
Two examples were given of this principle. The first is a famous photography adage: “A photographer’s best camera is the one he has with him.” The second was a musician who calls himself the Beat Scout, who makes music out of sounds wherever he finds them. Proof you don’t need a $2,000 guitar to make a hit.
4 - Schedule and Communicate
This step focuses on the organization of resources, coordinating with teams on assignments, and keeping all the moving parts of the content creation process working in synchronization. Given, there’s a big difference between what’s required to film a commercial and what it takes to write a blog post, but the principle is the same: execution will go smoother if you have everything you need before you start.
5 - Audit Yourself
To make sure you’re at the top of your game, you’ll need to continually audit your own performance. What was done well? What was done poorly? Where is there room for improvement? Turning a critical eye towards your own work will help you continually shave off the rough edges, and hone whatever craft it is you’re practicing. It’s that dedication to perpetually improving content that will draw attention from bigger names and better opportunities.
6 - Shoot Variations
With larger projects especially, you need to make provisions in case your primary content doesn’t resonate with audiences the way you planned. In film, this is done by shooting variations, so that you have options—both in the editing room, and at release. Similar steps can be taken in other forms of content: variations in graphic designs, revisions of articles, and recording multiple audio tracks for commercials are all examples.
7 - The War of Art/Self-Doubt
James takes this last step from a book called The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. His point here, in a nutshell, is that the moment you overestimate your content is the moment you stop pushing yourself. Much as you need to continually audit yourself to see what could have been improved, there should always be a healthy dose of self-doubt to your creative process, where you believe you can do just a little bit better.
James’ steps were designed to help content creators from all industries to improve their methods, and to start letting their work speak for itself. Killer content, as he says, will draw more attention than casual acquaintances ever will.
Kory Stevens, Founder of Taft Clothing
Kory Stevens, founder of Taft Clothing, was the evening's second presenter. He began his business with a no-show sock on Kickstarter in 2014, raising nearly $50K. After the success he experienced selling the socks, he moved on to handcrafted shoes from Spain. His small bootstrapped startup now competes with century-old shoe brands, and they’re making headway.
His message was about how to compete with giants. We all start somewhere, and even the big guys were small-timers once upon a time. His advice was aimed at teaching all the entrepreneurial “Davids” to stand toe-to-toe with Goliaths.
Small is Good
First, the hard facts. As a smaller company, you’re dealing with fewer resources, a smaller infrastructure, and less brand recognition. You’re effectively doing everything from scratch, and much of the time, you’re doing it all yourself. It’s no easy task.
There are certain advantages that come with being a smaller company. Large corporations are rigid. They lack the agility to adapt to change and adopt new strategies as culture and technology changes. Part of the reason why startups these days are performing so well is because they’re mostly started by digital natives, who know how to leverage everything that technology has to offer. Many corporate executives are out of touch with those things, and have fallen behind as a result.
Kory urged small companies to highlight and emphasize those differences, and showcase them. The agility of smaller companies makes them better prepared to respond to shifts in market demands and customer needs. It also gives them a chance to provide a more personal feel to the product or service they’re providing, thus better engaging with customers.
Big brands, Kory explained, are playing catch-up with this agility. While they may have the weight of a long-lasting brand (something that money can’t buy), they often don’t have control over customer experience. They also fail to manage social media as well as smaller companies, and often neglect things like website design and quality content. Meanwhile, small businesses are leveraging these things to build brand loyalty and reach massive audiences.
Think Customer First & Don't Get Ahead of Yourself
Kory also advised taking advantage of every touchpoint with the customer. From transactional emails, to the product packaging, to looking for new touchpoints (like adding hand-written notes in the box). And don’t underestimate the value of social media which, after all, is free.
He cautioned against the pressures that prompt many small businesses to make mistakes early in the process. Mistakes like:
- Putting too much faith in venture capital
- Getting into an office (before you absolutely have to)
- Launching too soon (i.e., pushing out a Minimum Viable Product) as you only get one first impression.
He encouraged businesses to “Stay gritty,” and ended with a quote from Tim Hiller: “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”